Sunday, 25 September 2016

Big pitches vs. sore knees!


Trip Dates: 16th -18th September 2016

Team:Derek Cousins, Celestine Crabbe, Mark Hampson, Duncan Hornby, Richard Sore, Helen Stewart, Malcolm Stewart, Phill Thomas, Claire Vivian


Another cracking weekend away, this time in the Peak District. With glorious weather and pubs dangerously close to the TSG hut in Castleton it was going to be a weekend well worth the effort (aka 7 hours of soul destroying driving).




Saturday


Titan


The entrance to Titan is an innocuous looking and beautifully engineered sliding manhole cover high on Hurd Low hill to the north of Castleton. From this vantage point, in fabulous still sunny weather, we had views north as far as Edinburgh and to the south could see the M4 as it goes round Cardiff; it seemed a pity to have to wrestle into stiff SRT harnesses and depart the glorious high peaks for the dark depths below.


Celestine, Mark, Malcolm, Richard and Phill at the entrance to Titan.

However, the key fitted the lock, the manhole opened, all the lights worked, we had all the ropes, it was going to have to be done...

Richard rigged from the girder and shackles just beneath the manhole cover and we followed down the initial pitch, which is a 48m free hang. Largely mined out you are struck as you descend by the amount of effort, concrete, time and money that have been poured into this shaft - once beneath the surface you can start to appreciate what a major civil engineering project this entrance shaft was. Helmets off to the cavers who created and funded it!

Richard rigging the first pitch.


Phill descending the first 45m pitch.

At the foot of the entrance shaft, turning away from the tiny circle of sunlight way up above, a stooping height mined passage leads into a wellie deep pool of muddy water. This continues round a couple of corners, to suddenly end at a window onto a vast black space. A doorstep of calcite with a few lumpy stalagmites on it provides the final launch pad, into the insanely big silo that is the Titan main shaft.

Rigging the second 70m pitch is ‘interesting’. The bolts are high up and well out, and to reach them you have to stand on tip-toe with one foot on a polished 6” high stalagmite, whilst tensioned onto the rope to the back-up belay with a hand jammer. Reaching at full stretch, with the rigging krabs gripped in wobbly finger-tips, it is hard to ignore the black void sucking at your back.

Celestine looking down towards Event Horizon at the top of the second 70m pitch.

The distant bolts do however provide a free-hang and once on the pitch everything becomes a bit more comfortable. Down, down, down, the rope sliding through the rack. Spinning gently, huge calcite flows and half seen corners of the shaft are dimly seen, my Fenix HL55 even on setting 4 is not powerfull enough for this. This is a totally lonely experience, the rest of the team above at the window might as well not be there, there is as far as I can tell no floor beneath me.

Eventually I feel and hear the tackle bag hit the Event Horizon, and I bounce gently on the elastic rope down a boulder slope to bolts, and put a re-belay in. Now I can stand and wait, secure, whilst Phill’s tiny glimmer of light descends towards me. It takes forever.

Phill takes over the rigging for the final pitch, dropping over the sloping lip of the Event Horizon to find and rig the free-hanging Y-hang, that supports the final drop to the floor of the shaft 65m below. Celestine lands beside me at the rebelay, and I then follow Phill, and make a total RS of passing the y-hang. Not the best place to spend ten minutes sweating and swearing; everything seems to be rigged left-handed and the wrong length; annoying because I know my SRT technique is flawless. Maybe I am going demented because beneath me I can see more than one light and hear voices - surely I haven’t been dangling here long enough for Phill to multiply by binary fission? Eventually, using a footloop and with one leg braced behind my ear, I manage to free my short cow’s tail from the bolt and fall exhausted onto my descender.

The second half of the shaft is as vast as the first and passes through a spatter of welcome spray to land at the foot of a huge jumble of boulders.

The top of the pile represented a good place out of the draft to sit and watch the rest of the team descend, Phill (just one of him) reports that the other team have been and gone - they made very good time.

Celestine descends third and Helen then proved that the y-hang can easily be passed if you know what you’re doing (perhaps I need to look at my technique after all) and Richard and Mark arrive shortly afterwards.

Mark descending the third 60m pitch.

All down we leave three of the SRT kits in the bag hanging from the end of the rope and follow Claire’s party out of Peak, following a trail of little cairns like breadcrumbs through the cave.

   
Richard and Mark at the top of the “Bung”.

The duck full of Cow Arse Worms is memorable (strong motivator to hold your breath) and colostomy crawl is well named - imagine a Cwm Dwr sized crawl filled with diarrhoea and you won’t be far off. Dragging a tackle bag through this is just fabulous fun; I think I may have said a rude word.

Richard at Surprise View.

All told an excellent trip taking about six hours to reach the warm air of the show cave and then the daylight at the impressive Peak Cavern entrance.

(Titan was de-rigged the next day by Richard, Phill, Malcolm and Mark; de-rigging took about 2 hours.)

Back at base (TSG) - a very muddy Phill about to enjoy a well deserved cup of tea :)


Peak Cavern

Who must really enjoy crawling in liquid mud? It has to be Duncan, Derek and Claire who had fun passing through Colostomy Crawl, not once, but twice, in the same trip.

As Malcolm, Helen, Phill, Richard, Celestine and Mark headed for the entrance to Titan the three of us strolled along the riverside walk to the entrance of Peak Cavern in the sunshine (rather a fast-paced stroll as we had Keith from the TSG with us). This was only a second visit to Peak for us, so our plan was to focus on route finding and try and reach the bottom of Titan from Peak, then exit via Peak again. Keith was heading to the White River series to replace a rope, so it fortuitously turned out that part of our trips would overlap and Keith could show us how to get as far as the Whirlpool. We had a small copy of the Peak-Speedwell survey with us, and this proved pretty useful further on in the trip.

Despite having a tacklebag the weight of a small child, Keith was even faster underground than he had been on the walk through Castleton. We left the showcave and were through the Mucky Ducks and at Treasury Chamber in no time. We then climbed the fixed ladder there and found ourselves in the Trenches (muddy crawling) and Colostomy Crawl (even more muddy crawling). Here we wallowed our way through mud for around 20-30 minutes, passing the junction with the Wind Tunnel and then emerged reborn at the top of Egnaro Aven. This proved to be an easy climb down a series of fixed ladders, though we were all covered in mud and making everything around us rather slippery at this time. We then sped on to find the Short Bypass (first small climb on the right, for anyone wondering) and met another group who had entered via Speedwell at Block Hall. Moving on in the Bung Hole streamway we were able to have a look at the actual Bung in the dam, as the stream was low. Here you reach another fixed ladder climb (approx. 15ft) up the dam wall. As it had been dry in recent days, the ladder climb was easy, but if it has rained recently, you will find yourself climbing up through a torrent of water. It is then a fairly short wade past the entrance to Far Canal (gated access to Speedwell showcave) to reach the Whirlpool. The scaff bars that have been placed on the wall to enable you to cross give an indication of what the area is like in wet conditions, but today the water was several inches below them and I was able to wade through it- it was only around chest deep, no swimming required. By this point, we were around 2hrs into our trip and it was time to head off on our own as Keith went his own way to sort out the rope.

We expected the route finding to be harder than it turned out to be and within the next 30 minutes we found our way to Titan, having a fabulous game of ‘gates and ladders’ along the way. The most memorable sections were one particularly awkward gate to open from underneath whilst balancing on a rocking ladder, Stemple Highway with its mildly interesting for short legs traverses and a good few squeezes which were definitely easier in the opposite direction. Not to mention the smelly pool of water, almost a duck, that contains the notorious Cow Arse Worms (which we passed through twice and managed to avoid getting). We got slightly lost once following some bang wire, but this turned out to be a small detour and we regained the route fairly quickly. We then emerged through an uphill crawl into the bottom of Titan. This was incredibly impressive and Duncan had fun experimenting with the tremendous echo there. When we arrived, we could see a member of the Titan team was rigging the Event Horizon, so we decided to wait for them to come down to say hello. Before long, Phill abseiled down and joined us. The rest of the team were on their way down, but we decided to push on back to Peak as it was getting chilly waiting there. On the way out we made good progress - though Colostomy Crawl seemed even longer on the way back - and decided to spend some time exploring the Peak streamway as Derek had not been there before and it is a fine streamway. We headed to Surprise View and down another fixed ladder to the river - we headed downstream as far as Buxton Water Sump and then went upstream as far as the cascade.

We spent ages cleaning our caving kit before entering the showcave (as Peak access rules dictate) and this turned out to be time well-spent as there was a tour group at the end of the cave just as we arrived. We had a chat with a couple of tourists in the group on the way out and then emerged into the sunshine once again.

Trip time: 6 hrs.



Sunday

Giants Hole


The trip into Giants Hole was to be their first visit for Celestine, Claire and Helen with Duncan leading the round trip. It should be noted that the landowner is now charging a whopping £3 per person to cross their land, this placed into a safety box where one parks.

We were to do the classic round trip, with Helen announcing that this was her first trip with Duncan, so no pressure then… :)


Celestine, Duncan, Claire and Derek preparing to leave the sunshine for Giants Hole.

Entering the cave we quickly got to the top of Garland Pot. My 9m ladder easily reached the bottom but a 20m rope would have been best (I only had a 15m). Several well placed bolts and an easy take-off make this a simple pitch to rig.

Duncan belaying Derek on Garland Pot pitch, Giants Hole.

Derek belaying Duncan down Garland Pot pitch.

At the bottom of the pitch is the start of the Crabwalk, a tight meandering passage very similar to maypole inlet in OFD. The main difference is that it just keeps going on and on! There is over 600m of Crabwalk there.

The team in one of the very few places within the Crab walk where people can gather!

One location (the Vice) requires the larger person to pretty much lie in the streamway as it is so narrow.

Going to the bitter end of the Crabwalk ends at a sump so we backed up about 15m and headed out of the stream to the left. At this point (the Eating House) there are several ways on but we needed to go up the awkward climb up where the knotted rope with footloops requires good upper body strength to haul yourself up ‘n’ out into Maggin’s Rift.

Then there was much memory loss, another longer but easier climb, leading ultimately to a junction known as Poached Egg.

Helen at top of a pitch (name unknown) on the return part of the trip.

Turning right eventually leads to the Devil's Windpipe, which requires a flat out crawl into a duck that can sump. According to the sign placed at the entrance, if it sumps it should not be attempted as it is over 20m in length. After much crawling and going wrong only once we eventually popped out above the crab walk. Fortunately for us someone had left a rope in situ so we abseiled down it. It is possible to free climb it down further on, where the rocks offer good footholds.

Claire descending into Crab Walk using an Italian Hitch.

We finally headed up stream back to Garlands pot pitch and once de-rigged we headed out.

Trip time: 4 Hours

Authors: Malcolm, Helen, Claire and Duncan

1 comment:

  1. Sounds very exciting there. Loved the blog Duncan

    ReplyDelete